Complimenting QB Philip Rivers on his football intelligence, LB Bobby Wagner recalled from the preseason game between the Chargers and Seahawks when Rivers called a timeout at the line of scrimmage, knowing his play call would be doomed against Seattle’s defensive set. More impressively, Rivers even knew the name of the Seahawks’ play.
“I’m like, ‘We just changed the name yesterday, how’d you do that?'” Wagner said. He guessed that defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, the former Seahawks D-boss, had something to do with it, but still: “The quarterbacks know the play, they never know the name of the play.”
Rivers’ craftiness is why the Seahawks defense is up against its gnarliest test at the Clink Sunday (1:05 p.m., CBS), aside from the Rams. The 5-2 Chargers are averaging 402.7 yards a game, sixth in the NFL, and Rivers, 36, is third in passer rating at 117.8.
Then again, the Chargers face a similar problem: Doing something about fellow smart guy Russell Wilson, who after a couple of meh games to start the season, now is helming a high-IQ operation that seems to make fewer mistakes as the season proceeds.
To cite one team benchmark, the Seahawks have scored (TD or FG) on 17 of 19 red zone possessions, an 89.5 percent rate that is third in the NFL. To cite an individual marker, Wilson’s passer rating is 112.8, sixth in the league and, if maintained, would be a career high.
The number had a big boost Sunday in the 28-14 triumph at Detroit when Wilson had a career first — a perfect passer rating of 158.3 points.
How rare was the deed? It was the first in Seahawks regular-season history.
In NFL annals dating to 1948, the feat has been done only 70 previous times, just nine in this pass-happy decade.
The rating formula has been around since 1973, with these minimum requirements:
Ten or more pass attempts, no interceptions, 77.5 percent completion rate, 11.88 percent touchdown rate, 12.5 yards per attempt.
Wilson was 14 for 17 with no picks, 82.4 percent completion rate, 17.6 percent TD rate and 14.6 yards per attempt. Given the travails of the 2017 offense, which often couldn’t open a door without breaking its figurative nose, the turnaround in efficiency borders on the astonishing.
Pro Football Focus observed that even under pressure, Wilson was five for seven for 82 yards and completed all nine of his pass attempts targeted at least 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, including 3-for-3 for 96 yards and a touchdown on throws 20-plus yards downfield.
Even coach Pete Carroll, who rarely admits to surprise at success, is surprised at this success.
“I think the sense we have for who we’ve become has exceeded (expectations),” he said Monday. “It’s really clear what we’re trying to do. We’re a little bit unique in how we’re going about it. Our ability to kind of capture that has surprised me a little bit.
“I had hoped it would be here even earlier, but I think that it’s so clear and we’re so direct on how we’re going to try to play these games . . . is a pleasant surprise.”
The upgrade in the rushing game has been the prime component. Adding veteran guards D.J. Fluker and J.R. Sweezy, a commitment to blocking tight ends and tackle-eligible George Fant, plus good health for RBs Chris Carson and Mike Davis, has created efficiency from near-chaos.
“Talent,” said C Justin Britt, when asked to explain the year-over-year productivity. “The biggest difference this year from last year is so many weapons on offense. That’s what we were missing last year — the personnel to do what we needed to do.
“Being balanced (between run and pass), this year things are clicking. We have a smart, hard-working group.”
Wilson was quick to dismiss the personal significance of the perfecto, but there was no denying the symbolism of the game-long continuity the number represented.
“I think it goes back to the offensive line with our run game,” he said. “But also they give me enough time to make some decisions in the passing game to really throw the ball and make a lot of plays in the red zone. We’ve been lights out in the red zone.
“We have that attack mentality. We want to go for it. We’re not waiting.”
When Wilson throws, a higher percentage are shots — his 16 touchdowns through seven games matches Dave Krieg’s club record for the same span — but the running game is as annoyingly steady as a 4 a.m. jackhammer. The Seahawks gained 176 yards on the ground Sunday on 42 carries, but the longest run was one by Carson for 12 yards.
The line’s maturation almost seems like dawn to the Seahawks. Remember when they were 0-2 and Carroll said Wilson was “over-trying”? That is so September now.
“Russ would always be this efficient if we protected him like this, is what I feel about him,” Carroll said. “There’s nothing that he can’t do. We’ve just got to give him a chance. In years past, he had been ducking and dodging quite a bit more. It’s pretty obvious he’s been all over the place. He hasn’t had to be (now).
“I’ve always said he could be a 70-percent completion guy. In this format, there’s no doubt in my mind he could be. That’s when we’re really dangerous.”
Then, imagine what it might be like once Wilson is smart enough to tell the opposing defense what it’s running, by name.